Aramco Engineer Balances Work, Family
Mentoring is crucial in the development of the oil and gas industry workforce. Through mentoring, lessons learned are transferred to younger professionals while interaction promotes new ideas to get the job done. At a personal level, mentors may ultimately influence career paths. If you would like to discuss the articles in this section, please go to the SPE.org online YP network.—Syahril Hussin, YEPP PerSPEctive Editor
Amal Al-Awami is a mother of four and one of the few female engineers working for Saudi Aramco. She is from Qatif in Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia, and joined the company right after finishing high school in 1979. She later earned a BS degree in chemical engineering from the U. of Southern California and an MBA degree from Hull U. in the U.K. She has worked in various departments and is currently a reservoir-simulation specialist with the Reservoir Description and Simulation Dept.
Just like many high school graduates, Al-Awami was not sure about what she wanted to major in. All she had in mind was to go to a big university in the U. S. Realizing that dream and getting a scholarship to the U.S. from Saudi Aramco opened the doors wide to almost all the majors she could dream of. People around her encouraged her to go for medicine. She entertained that idea, but medical school in the U.S. was almost out of the question because of the limited seats available for undergraduate international students. Reading about engineering majors in the King Fahd U. of Petroleum and Minerals course book led her to choose chemical engineering. Chemistry was her favorite subject, and engineering was what she was after. So, to her, it was the best combination. Now that she has become a petroleum engineer by profession, she states that sometimes she regrets the fact that she didn’t go for a petroleum engineering degree at the same time, but she knows in her heart that she did the right thing.
A Difficult Job?
When asked how difficult her job is on women, she states, “No job is difficult for a woman if it’s what she wants to do, if it’s what she is trained to do, or if it’s what she is destined to make a living from.” But it is not easy for all women, she says. “Unfortunately, women still have to work harder than men to prove themselves as if what has been done already is not enough,” she says. She can’t deny that she has been through stressful times when she wished that she had a different job, but she is not considering a new position. “When I retire, I would love to do something which would be much more fun like having my own restaurant or TV talk show,” she says. “At the same time, I believe I can be a very good teacher. I used to tutor many of my classmates in school in math.”
Al-Awami said there is no specific person who has helped her in her career. “I have never had a mentor in the strictest meaning of that term. In Saudi Aramco, there is what is called the professional development program that is meant to help young graduates get through their job training programs under the guidance of a senior engineer.” Most of the senior engineers she has worked with were good, and she learned a lot from them. When she joined the in-house specialist program, she had an official mentor, Kwaku Temeng, who helped her design a 3-year program to become a compositional-simulation specialist. “I’d like to take this opportunity to thank him for that,” she says. Her recommendation to all young engineers is to find themselves real mentors at an early stage. She says she is glad that SPE has begun the eMentoring program and would encourage all members to make good use of it.
Al-Awami joined SPE after graduation in 1985. She thought of joining the American Inst. of Chemical Engineers, but dropped the idea. She has been very involved locally in SPE, serving as Treasurer and Membership Chairperson. “I believe in SPE and would recommend that all join and get involved,” she says.
Most Important Things
Her job and her personal life go hand in hand. Indeed, she has never had a problem balancing them both. “Sometimes I have had to leave the kids to be taken care of by their father and relatives when I go on business assignments, but even that proved to be good for all of us,” she says. “It allowed the family to realize how valuable my role is as a mother and, at the same time, it gives them the chance to learn how to survive without me.” She says her own career is the second most important thing in her life after her family. “I see no contradictions between what I have to give to either of them,” she says.
She feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to study engineering and to build a career with many rewards along the way. “I had bigger dreams as a child but became much more realistic after becoming a mother. I pray to God to give me health and a long life to see my kids fulfilling their dreams as well.” It is difficult to achieve a low-stress life these days, but she believes that it is up to people to make their lives better or worse. With the help of the family and friends, she tries to lead a balanced life with many activities. She also states, “Having the opportunity to take a long vacation every summer and traveling to nice places helps a lot.” On weekends, she gets together with her extended family and friends.
She recently gave a brief speech to young professionals about the industry’s attractions. She spoke of its high-tech attractions and said she has shown her eldest son Ala, who is in the 12th grade and getting ready for university, the computer technology used including 3D pictures of simulation models. Al-Awami said she believes that the oil industry is a rich and powerful industry and that being part of it will always give young employees a sense of fulfillment. “Overall, if a young professional has what it takes, the oil industry is the place to be,” she says.
Karam Sami Al-Yateem earned a BS degree in petroleum engineering from King Fahd U. of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and works as a production engineering on the offshore Safaniya oil field for Saudi Aramco.